The re-opening

North Carolina’s phased re-opening is underway and, if the chaos in Wal*Mart’s parking lot is any indication, things are going to turn ugly again very quickly. I saw nobody taking precautions — no masks, no distancing; the parking lot was jammed no differently than the week before Christmas.

I was happy to let the kid put the groceries in the trunk for me, and then leave. Our few other errands went the same way; if we left the car at all, there were no close encounters.

But an awful lot of my neighbors are behaving as though the pandemic has passed and the party is … ON. I hope their ebullience proves justified, but just now I’m feeling a foreboding that won’t lift.

This means, unhappily, that there will almost certainly be no trip to Michigan this year. No trip to the Upper Peninsula, and Uncle Bob and Aunt Dawn are likely to be no-shows for two weddings. After all, air travel seems out of the question, and the long drives mean a lot of unavoidable encounters: restaurants, motels, rest areas, coffee stops, on and on. For those who do get married, the year of the Great Pandemic is sure to become a touchstone, e.g., “We were married the year of the pandemic, and rescheduled twice, but hardly anybody was there. So-and-so intended to be there, but went into the hospital the day before. The band’s drummer died.”

Ahhh … memories.

Some habits have probably changed forever. I am sure that a lot of people have discovered, and like, the convenience of having their groceries and merchandise picked by others and simply delivered into the trunk, so I’m willing to bet that it’s going to get harder to reserve a time-slot for pickup at places that do it well. Wal*Mart will almost certainly see a permanent increase in their grocery share, and places that weren’t prepared will probably see an irreparable decline in their receipts.

Some people are going to go back to church for the first time in two months and leave asking themselves, “Why do I submit every week to listening to that asshole tell me that I’m no damn good? I liked going to the park with Fido and the kids, instead. And I don’t like tippy-toeing around the old ladies.” So the decline in church attendance will almost certainly accelerate.

Streaming services, such as Netflix, should be fine, and so should booksellers with e-reader offerings.

Some other things I’ve noticed, small things but possibly significant: the lawns in my neighborhood seem to be better tended, and there are more bright flowerpots around. Definitely, I’m out on the back deck grilling more often.

Work that draws a paycheck is, by definition, needful to somebody and, however humble, deserves respect.

The kids who put our groceries in the trunk, for instance. Always, the kids are mannerly and take care putting the groceries in; not once has the case of water ended up on top of the potato chips. It’s clear that some of the kids are maxed-out, though; putting our groceries in the trunk is about all they’re ever going to do. But some of them clearly have a future, and I hope that Wal*Mart recognizes those kids and offers them a career path, the education they need, and the respect they deserve.

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